One of the often overlooked positions within the Harris County District Attorney's Office (absurdly) is the position of the Administrative Assistant (aka the Secretary). Sadly, the Administrative Assistant is often underappreciated in most offices across the world, when those of us who rely on them all know that we could not function without them.
At the District Attorney's Office, the Administrative Assistants have to deal with the overbearing egos of the prosecutors they assist, the overbearing egos of the attorneys that call to speak with said prosecutors, annoyed and often clueless witnesses, angry defendants, and bereaved victims. In between, they keep their fingers on the location of every file handled by their prosecutors, arrange meetings, type grand jury agendas, and basically play the parent role to everyone in their court.
In a word, they are all priceless in the positions in which they hold.
In return, they get paid what you might expect that a county employed administrative assistant might get paid.
In the face of Hurricane Ike, these irreplaceable members of the D.A.'s Office got caught in a Catch-22 that was not fair to them, and did not treat them with the respect that they all deserve as valuable members of the District Attorney's Office.
Before I go on, please realize that I am not criticizing Ken Magidson, because these decisions were not his. The sad reality is that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is a cog in the Harris County Bureaucracy.
As Hurricane Ike approached on Friday, the powers that be within the County declared a "Floating Holiday" that allowed all county employees to be off, in order to prepare for looming disaster. The concern on the "front side" of the storm was nice.
After Ike came through over the weekend, one of the biggest problems it created within the Harris County Criminal Justice Center was a back up of raw sewage that pretty much permeated the first floor of the building. Trust me on this one, folks -- it was freaking NASTY!
Nevertheless, the order came that employees were to report to work on Monday, or to take a Vacation Day or use their Compensation Time (which employees were strongly encouraged to do). The big problem with that is that while the prosecutors and investigators may easily accumulate "comp time", the Administrative Assistants do not. They work an 8 to 5 job, and earning "comp time" for them is virtually impossible. Sure, they could dip into their vacation time, but most of them were carefully saving their time for the upcoming Christmas holidays.
They were faced with the decision to either come into work in unsanitary conditions, cut short their upcoming Christmas vacations, or have their paychecks docked. In the alternative, employees could "work from home" (which is no problem for a prosecutor, and perhaps not an investigator), but the Adminstrative Assistant's job description requires their presence at the Office.
There was no "work from home" scenario for the them.
The bottom line was that the Administrative Assistants had to come to work, or lose money or vacation time.
That doesn't sound all that fair, does it?
Think that isn't fair? Wait a second.
This story gets worse.
After arriving at the Office on Monday, as told to do, a memo went out that the sewage back up on the first floor of the CJC had created a "Safety Hazard". The result of this "safety hazard" was that all "non-essential personnel" had to leave the building immediately.
Guess who qualifies as the "non-essential personnel".
If you guessed the Administrative Assistants, you would be guessing correctly.
Yep, the Administrative Assistants who came in -- burning preciously scarce gasoline -- were told to get out of the building almost immediately.
And so they did. They weren't allowed to work on Monday, nor on Tuesday.
That's all fine and good, until the Edict came down from the Commissioner's Court today, stating that there would be no more "floating holidays" added to the one given for the previous Friday.
What does that translate to?
It means that the Administrative Assistants weren't ALLOWED to work on Monday or Tuesday, yet they aren't being paid for the days that they were ORDERED to be absent from the job. It means that if they want their full paychecks on the next payday that they will have to cut short their long-planned vacations in December.
What part of that sounds fair, exactly?
I understand that the County Officials have a lot of things that they are dealing with at the moment. This Hurricane has affected us all.
But the policy signed off on by the Commissioners today really screws over the folks that are probably the most overworked and underpaid members of the District Attorney's Office.
And folks, that just ain't right.
I hope that at some point, our County Commissioners will reconsider how short-sighted their decision was and make this right for some of the hardest working employees that the County has to offer.